Phar Lap was a legendary racehorse that won many notable races. After its triumph in the famous Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932 in Mexico, the animal died in agony under mysterious circumstances while on tour in the USA. One of the suggestions at the time was that Phar Lap had been poisoned.
Ivan M. Kempson (Academia Sinica, Taiwan) and Dermot A. Henry (Museum Victoria, Australia) have now subjected the horse’s hairs to a very thorough examination. As the researchers report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the animal does indeed seem to have died of arsenic poisoning.
Traces of many substances that enter the body eventually also wind up in the hair, where they accumulate. Hair analysis has often been used to detect drug use or to posthumously uncover poisoning as the cause of death. After his death, Phar Lap was prepared and stuffed and displayed in Museum Victoria in Melbourne. “We were able to obtain small pieces of the hide and mane with the roots intact,” reports Kempson.
They only examined hairs that were unquestionably still growing at the time of death. These were individually analyzed along their entire length with synchrotron X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy at the Advanced Photon Source in Chicago. This method detects even trace amounts of chemical elements because each element emits very characteristic radiation.
The scientists looked at the arsenic content of the hairs. “They found a small amount of arsenic that was relatively evenly distributed over all of the hairs. This is in agreement with the arsenic content of the chemicals used to preserve the hide,” says Kempson. “In addition, we found a considerably elevated arsenic content at the same distance from the root in each of the hairs we examined.”At the time of the horse’s death, this part of the hair was under the surface of the skin.
“If you take into account the rate of growth for horse hair and the metabolic rate, the location at which the elevated arsenic concentration was found indicates that the horse must have eaten and metabolized the arsenic,” explains Kempson. In addition, the scientists used an X-ray technique that can distinguish the chemical environment of the arsenic. Says Kempson: “ The arsenic species identified also suggest that Phar Lap died of arsenic poisoning.”
However, it is impossible to know how the horse ingested the arsenic. Was it deliberate poisoning by competitors or enviers? Was it an accident—perhaps an overdose of the arsenic-containing tonics popular at the time? Was the feed contaminated? “That will always remain a mystery,” says Kempson.
Author: Ivan M. Kempson, Academia Sinica, Taipei (Taiwan), mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Title: Synchrotron Radiation Reveals Arsenic Poisoning and Metabolism in Hair: The Case of Phar Lap
Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Permalink to the article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.200906594
Ivan M. Kempson | Angewandte Chemie
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering